Echoes of Harper's Ferry had me at hello, even if that hello was a raucous set of beer-soaked goodness in a tiny Cleveland club. From their delightfully sloppy Jawbreaker cover (I couldn't help but think this was how Schwarzenbach would want it) to their anthemic closer "Back to Cleveland" -- a song that had even me (a native Philadelphian) feeling solidarity with C-Town -- I knew this band was not another by-the-numbers punk group. As they ripped through their set with wry smiles, raised glasses and the kind of hungry exuberance that can only come from three dudes who are just as frustrated by life as they are excited about it, I felt my cynic's shell being cracked. This was the sort of stuff that drew me to punk rock in the first place. Luckily, Never Forget, the band's first full-length, manages to convey the same sense of impassioned urgency, vexation and chaotic celebration as their live performance.
Echoes' influences aren't exactly obscure. Tracks like opener "Protestant Work Ethic" and "Dispatch Master Transport" recall the Lawrence Arms and Jawbreaker thanks to their galloping drum beats and some screechy riffing, while the darker guitar runs and aggressive melodies of "King Dodongo" and "Sawyer Family Cookout '82" sound like latter-day Propaghandi, and "Endangered Species" and "Haditha" could be compared to just about any of your favorite gruff-punk acts. It's the band's construction and interpretation of these influences, however, that make them unique. Never Forget is not an album full of imitations, but an album full of familiar reference points intersecting to create a powerful and melodically-charged addition to the punk canon.
Vocalist/guitarist Tim Gill's voice may pay homage to early Small Brown Bike, but the music here is much more pop-punk than post-hardcore. Then comes the fact all of these songs -- with the exception of the acoustic "Benng Strait" -- are brief and accelerated romps that could easily fall victim to formulaic designs. Instead, Echoes seem to take pleasure in surprising the listener. "Rapid Stations" offers one of the album's best sing-along moments as a short outro, while the desperate and unaccompanied throat-shredding shout of "So when you fall seven times, you must stand up eight!" at the close of "Japanese Proverb" still gives me chills, and "Dispatch Master Transport" manages to cram five or six fantastic ideas into a song that is under two minutes long. Elsewhere, detailed riffs, overlapping vocal melodies and complementary bass-lines pop up, entice the ears and then disappear before they run the chance of growing redundant. Any band can subvert expectations with absurd shifts or eyebrow-raising detours, but Echoes manage to offer subtle variances within the context of a well-crafted song.
If the reference to post-9/11 sloganeering in the album's title and its subsequent artwork -- which displays the years of various attacks made on foreign soil by the United States -- weren't enough of an indicator, you are not going to hear laments about broken hearts here. Before you go tagging Echoes as a political band, however, it is important to note that lyrically, the group use the same sort of methods of conception that they do musically. In other words, the band's lyrical content is an amalgamation of influences and perspective rather than one overarching voice. On Never Forget, you not only learn what is pissing off the guy behind the mic, but also what sort of life he is living.
This convergence of the personal and political is nowhere better exemplified then in closer "Back to Cleveland." In the first verse, Gill sings "And I woke up in the pouring rain / I was half-drunk with my Claddagh ring / pointed straight out west / and that's where I head in two weeks to see / Owen" as his guitar screams out below. Here, Gill echoes perhaps two of contemporary punk's strongest tenants: drinking and friendship, but it is the second verse where we see the political intersect. Over a rolling drum-beat and fuzzy chords, Gill sings, "I woke up in San Jose / we drank at noon everything fucking day... / Owen, get shattered with me / I'm so sick of red fucking states," and we understand that his escape, via a trip to California and drinking, are not without cause, but instead come in reaction to his frustration with (presumably) Ohio's Republican tendencies. These lyrical designs continue over the course of the album as the band attack global economic policies that are detrimental to third-world countries and the U.S. funding of Noriega with the same amount of fierce tact as they do the job-centered nature of our culture and the importance of music providing a message.
Never Forget is a fantastic debut with only minor flaws. The all-acoustic "Beeng Strait" is not a bad song, but just seems out of place here, like if Chuck Ragan threw a solo jam on a Hot Water Music album. Gill's vocals can also get indecipherable at points, like he's switched from being gravel-voiced to simply having gravel in his mouth, and there are some recording/production issues. These issues include a weird bass pop at the beginning of "Japanese Proverb," the extremely quiet drums at the end of "Let's Go Waterboarding" and the absolutely garbled sample during the bridge of "Endangered Species," but when you consider that a lot of this album's charm comes from its complete lack of pretension, these moments are pretty insignificant.
I could tell in that Cleveland club where I first heard Echoes of Harper's Ferry that they were a sincere band with an honest love of music, and that passion -- for political awareness, for catharsis, hell, even for having a beer with friends -- is absolutely present on Never Forget. Every crashing chord, every blow to the snare drum, every gasp for air between shouts is an indicator of the devotion this band has to their craft, and damn is that nice to hear.
"Sawyer Family Cookout 82"
"Dispatch Master Transport"
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